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Ballet Students Strive for Certification

Eighty-three students at the Margaret Haddad School of Classical Ballet opt to participate in Russian Ballet Society certifications.

When Margaret Haddad works with her ballet students, she is typically very vocal with her instructive comments and constructive criticism. However, since last weekend was anything but typical for the students of the Margaret Haddad School of Classical Ballet in Great Falls, Haddad found herself in the unusual role of silent observer.

"It's very emotional for me because normally I can tell them to raise their arms higher, lift up their chin or remind them to smile, but during these certifications, I'm not supposed to say anything," said Haddad. "I just give them their step and sit down and stay quiet, but it's so worth it when I get to see the glee on their faces. Somehow they just pull up and become 10 feet tall."

On Friday, March 2, Deborah Schade Adamou, vice president of the Russian Ballet Society, traveled 19 hours from the Republic of Cyprus to Washington D.C. in order to administer the Russian Ballet Society's official certification exams to 83 students at the Margaret Haddad School of Classical Ballet in Great Falls. Haddad has run her school in Great Falls for the past 20 years, and she offers her students the opportunity to earn official ballet certifications every two years.

"They work to achieve a certain level of the syllabus and then get tested on it, and since it's every two years and not every few months, they know that it's important," said Haddad. "It gives them something to work toward achieving, and it's just a good way to encourage them and give them a sense of belonging to something here."

HADDAD STUDIED at the Legat School of Russian Ballet, and was the first child in England to receive a ballet scholarship.

"It really was a wonderful place," said Haddad of the Legat School. "It was a lot of discipline and a lot of hard work, but it really was very beneficial for me."

As an adult, Haddad moved frequently and resided in a number of different countries, and was grateful that her rigorous ballet education at the Legat School enabled her to have a lifelong career as a ballet instructor — regardless of where she resided. Haddad subsequently has over 40 years of global ballet instruction experience. Deborah Schade Adamou also attended the Legat School of Russian Ballet, but was a student after Haddad had been there.

"Madame Legat was my teacher, but by the time Deborah got there she was unfortunately no longer teaching," said Haddad.

Nadine Nicolaeva and Nicolas Legat opened their school in 1923 and eventually established the "Legat System" style of ballet dancing. Currently located in Scotland, the Russian Ballet Society is committed to preserving and maintaining the Classical Russian Ballet style and the Legat System via its teaching and examination qualification exams. Thus, Adamou spends a great deal of time administering the Society's certification exams to students of all ages at Russian Ballet schools around the globe.

"It's a test of a certain standard of dance," said Adamou, who has run her own School of Russian Ballet in Cyprus for 25 years.

According to Adamou, the certifications are an excellent motivator for ballet students since they provide definitive recognition of all the hard work that they put in over the years.

"Ballet is not a profession — it's a way of life," said Adamou.

THE CERTIFICATION exams vary according to the age and ability level of the students. The exam for the youngest students lasts approximately 30 minutes, whereas the exam for the advanced students lasts well over an hour.

"It's extremely difficult and very long," said Haddad of the advanced certification process.

During the certifications, Haddad told her students what steps to perform, and Adamou observed and took notes. Adamou's marks will be sent to the Russian Ballet Society in Scotland for evaluation, and students who achieve certification will receive official certificates of recognition from the Society. Haddad presents the certificates — along with various trophies — at the end her school's season finale show in May.

Haddad said she was thrilled with the level of professionalism displayed by her students during last week's certification process.

"There were no nerves at all," said Haddad. "Only one student was sick, and there no tears, no fuss — nothing. It is very encouraging for me to know that here in Great Falls, people understand what ballet is all about."